The influence of linguistic difficulties in Belgium is immediately noticeable on the nation’s numismatics. The first Belgian coins at the time of independence were inscribed entirely in French reflecting that language’s dominant position over all aspects of the state at that time. Coins with Dutch (or “Flemish”) legends were struck beginning in 1882 and since that date there have been two versions of almost every Belgian coin minted, one in French and one in Dutch. The two coins are minted in approximately equal amounts and are completely interchangeable. They circulate side by side and differ only in the language of inscriptions.
In the 1930s the government attempted to create a unified coinage with the Dutch Belgie and the French Belgique side by side. The king was identified as Leopold III, the same in both languages. This solution never worked because on each coin either Belgie or Belgique must come first and neither side could acquiesce to being second billed. In exasperation the government minted two versions of these coins as well, one version with Belgie-Belgique, the other with Belgique-Belgie.
In 1960, one of the last years of relative unity, Belgium minted a coin commemorating the marriage of King Baudouin. Following the example of Switzerland, a nation that solves the monetary problems associated with being a multi-lingual society by using Latin as a neutral language, the coin was inscribed completely in Latin. Belgium is identified as “Belgica” and even the royal name Baudouin is Latinized to “Baldvinus.” Apparently this didn’t work either because the Latin solution was never extended to any other coins. In 1987, at the height of language hyper-sensitivity, Belgium started to add German legends to commemorative coins although only 0.7 percent of Belgians claimed German as their first language. A 1990 coin commemorating the 60th birthday of King Albert II was minted in three different versions, French, Dutch, and German.
Belgium’s official motto is “La Union fait la Force” or “Strength in Unity,” yet the political situation of the past fifty years has proven to be reflective of anything other than feelings of solidarity. Belgium’s troubled relationship with its monarch and the ongoing schism its language groups is reflected in the nation’s coinage from the end of World War II until the introduction of the Euro.
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